Sleep. If you get the recommended amount of it (of course the right mattress helps), you will be spending a lot of time in your bed sheets. Be sure you get the right sheets for your best sleep.

As I was contemplating purchasing a new set of bed sheets I discovered there were more options to consider than I originally thought – including everything from thread count, fiber content, finish, etc. I wanted a quality sheet set but didn’t want to overspend. So the question became, what determines quality and what fiber content is best for me? As I began researching, I recognized I had a lot to learn. Once I uncovered the jargon, the processes and the secrets of the trade, I wanted to share. Here is what I discovered…

Table of Contents
Fiber

There are several types of fibers available for bedsheets. Although the majority is made out of cotton, there are others, such as silk, Rayon (made out of Tencel ®, bamboo as well as Birch), polyester, and blends. For me, I wanted a 100% natural fiber sheet. So that narrows it down to cotton, rayon, linen, and silk.

Cotton

Cotton is by far the most popular fabric used for sheets. This makes sense since it is not only durable, but it breathes well, it is easy to care for, is soft, readily available and is usually affordable. But let’s not leave it there. There are several types of cottons to consider including: Egyptian cotton, pima cotton, upland cotton, and Supima, MicroCotton® & Turkish cotton. The subtle hand and softness to the fabric comes from the type of cotton used. All the lables can be confusing but remember that cotton quality is determined by both the fiber length and strength, which is reflected in type it is labeled as such as Pima, Egyptian, etc.

  • True Egyptian cotton is grown in the dry hot climates of North Africa and will have extra-long fibers that make it super soft and the best quality of all the cottons. *Note: shortcuts to growing “Egyptian cotton” outside of its natural habitat have been discovered, usually indicating that the quality has decreased but the price has remained high. Do your research before spending a lot on Egyptian cotton).
  • Pima cotton has a natural sheen with medium to extra-long fibers. This type of cotton is usually grown in the Southwest United States.
  • Upland cotton is the most common grown cotton in the world. With slightly shorter fibers than Pima, it isn’t as soft as the aforementioned.
  • Supima is made from 100% American Pima cotton. It is known for producing extra-long staple fibers that are associated with strength and absorbency.
  • MicroCotton, a trademarked name, is an extremely fine cotton thread developed in India that is made from long staple cotton fibers. It is known to be super soft and plush.
  • Turkish Cotton is grown exclusively in Turkey. This cotton has an extra-long staple. It is typically used to create towels as it is durable and more absorbent than other types of cotton.
  • Don’t forget Flannel – a great choice for a cold winter’s night. This is also made out of cotton as well, but the fibers are combed to be fluffed up instead of smooth. (Note: Flannel is not measured on thread count but rather on ounces per square yard).

Note: Heavy dyes and darker printed designs will result in rougher sheets in all cotton types.

Fun fact: cotton will absorb more than 25% its weight in water.

Rayon

Rayon, also referenced as viscose, is the end result of a process of turning a tree into a fiber. There are many types of trees that you can use to create rayon including Bamboo, Birchwood and the Eucalyptus tree.

The tree is ground up turned into a pulp and then processed with chemicals, turning the pulp into a fiber. At which point, the fiber is spun into a thread. This produces an extremely soft, durable, moisture wicking, thermal regulating silky fabric that resists bacteria.

As a side not, if you are looking for rayon derived from Bamboo, you should be looking for an Oeko-Tex Standard 100. This indicates that the Rayon from Bamboo has been tested and certified that no harmful chemicals remain on the fabric and that it is safe for babies.

Similar to Rayon from Bamboo, there is Lycoll Rayon or Tencel ® Rayon. Tencel ® is a brand name that has its own patented breakdown process. It is used to describe a fabric (Lycoll) made out of Eucalyptus tree wood pulp. Not only is it soft, but it is very durable as well as being antimicrobial. It is perfect for warm sleepers and is known for its strength and durability.

Linen

Linen is known as the world’s strongest natural fiber. It is made from the flax plant. The plant fibers are thicker than the cotton plant and have very long fibers. Linen is made by curing the straw or retted stalks for up to a year. This is then crushing the remaining woody stalks and then combed which polishes the fibers and removes the short fibers. It is then spun, woven.

Linen sheets are very durable and will last a long, long time. They tend to be crisper than cotton but will soften with use. Linen sheets are antibacterial, known to be tolerable for those that suffer with allergies and skin conditions and they are thermal regulating for use during any time of year.

Fun fact: Linen is used in our paper currency to increase strength. Also, it can absorb up to 20% moisture before it will begin to feel damp.

Silk

Silk is probably the most luxurious and most expensive of all of the types of fibers sheets are constructed. Silk is produced by silkworms. The fiber is collected and then spun into a thread. If you can afford them, they are cool, feel absolutely fabulous against your skin and they resist bacteria. Be forewarned, they do also require special care.

Blends

There are virtually limitless blends available. For instance, linen-silk blend, cotten-tencel, Rayon-cotton, etc. Typically, the blends are less expensive than the pure options, especially if you add in synthetic.

Weave

The weave of your sheet has to do with how it feels, the way it looks, it’s longevity and of course the price. A few weaves that are prominently known are Percale weave, which is similar to a basket weave that has a crisper feel and the sateen weave which is an elaborate weave that gives more surface area providing a softer feel as well as making it a little warmer. The sateen weave also has a heat treatment to give it its sheen. It is more expensive than the percale weave as well as being less durable.

Thread Count

Thread count is the number of vertical and horizontal threads per square inch.

For a long time people viewed higher thread count sheets as better quality but that is not the case. These numbers are often inflated by manipulating the sheet-making process with a low-quality construction or thread. In the 1960’s, a sheet with a 180 thread count was considered a luxury.  “Now you see 1,000 thread count sheets but you just can’t get that many threads on a loom,” says Pat Slaven, a textile expert at Consumer Reports. To get that higher number, manufacturers use thinner strands of fabric twisted together as if they were one. Then they double, triple or even quadruple the thread count to make the number more attractive to the consumer.

“It ups the count but doesn’t give you a better sheet,” says Slaven. “The sweet spot is 400.” More threads also mean less breathability, making for a hotter sleep experience with higher thread-count sheets. As a general rule, buy above a 200-thread count sheet and know that anything above 800 doesn’t really matter. Thread count matters, but fiber quality matters most.

Other Important Factors

Location

Just as in real estate, location of the thread fiber and construction matters. Within the industry, it is known that a 200 thread count from Italy is better quality than a 1,000 thread count from Pakistan. If you have an option, especially when it comes to cotton and linen sheets, go with a sheet maker from France or Italy as they are the best in the business.

Finish

In order to have an unwrinkled sheet right out of the package, many sheet manufacturers finish sheets with a chemical. Look for words such as “shrinkage control” that you will want to stay away from. However words such as organic should provide you with a chemical free product.

Pricing

With bed sheets, as with many other purchases, you get what you pay for. Stay within your budget, but opt for the higher priced sheet set. The quality and longevity of it will more than pay for itself and as a bonus, it will be smoother and softer to the touch.

Online Purchase

Buying online prevents you from being able to touch and feel the fabrics. In this case, your environment can help determine which thread count as well as fiber content is best for your personal comfort.

Caring for Your Sheets

No matter the sheets you purchase, it is important to care for them properly. Washing your sheets in hot water with too much heat during the drying process will cause the fibers in the material to expand and shrink which will loosen the weave and cause them break down faster. Fabric softeners put a chemical coating on them which wears them out faster. The recommended course of action is to use lukewarm water and avoid drying on high heat – hanging them out to dry will preserve them the longest. Since the types of sheets covered here are natural, you should wash them frequently as they naturally absorb moisture and dirt.

Tip: If investing in a good quality mattress, and natural sheets, be sure to invest in a mattress pad as well. It will provide an additional layer of protection for your mattress as well as provide an extra layer of comfort for you as you sleep.

Final Note - Your Mattress/Sheet Size

The depth of the mattress used is important, but most manufacturers are making 15” fitted sheet pockets now and using elastic around the entire sheet, helping keep the sheet in taught and in place.   It’s always good to make sure the fitted bottom sheet is 1-2 inches deeper than the mattress.

  • A twin bed otherwise known as a single, measures 39” W x 75” L.
  • A twin extra long bed, the ones most used in a dorm, is the same width as a twin, but longer. It measures 39″ W x 80″ L.
  • A full or double bed is 54” W x 75” L.
  • The standard queen size bed is 60” W x 80” L.
  • The King, also known as the Eastern King is equivalent to two twin XL box springs and measures 78” W  x 80” L.
  • A  California King (aka Cal King or Western King) is slightly less wide the the King at 72” W x 84” L. This mattress reached popularity in the mid 1970’s and was most popular in California, Nevada, Arizona, and parts of New Mexico. It is intentionally designed narrower for the width of west coast homes, and longer for taller people.

Tip: Do have troubles getting your fitted sheets on your bed? You may want to read this article that will help eliminate your bed making frustrations.

What has been your experience with bed sheets? Weigh in below and leave a comment.